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An Accusation







Part of: MELISSY OF THE BAR DOUBLE G
From: Brand Blotters

The rescued man ate, drank, and from sheer fatigue fell asleep within five
minutes of the time he was shown his bedroom.

Since he was not of the easily discouraged kind, the deputy stayed to
supper on invitation of Lee. He sat opposite the daughter of his host, and
that young woman treated him with the most frigid politeness. The owner of
the Bar Double G was quite unaware of any change of temperature. Jack and
his little girl had always been the best of friends. So now he discoursed
on the price of cows, the good rains, the outrages of the rustlers, and
kindred topics without suspecting that the attention of the young man was
on more personal matters.

Though born in Arizona, Melissy was of the South. Due westward rolls the
tide of settlement, and Beauchamp Lee had migrated from Tennessee after
the war, following the line of least resistance to the sunburned
territory. Later he had married a woman a good deal younger than himself.
She had borne him two children, the elder of whom was now a young man.
Melissy was the younger, and while she was still a babe in arms the mother
had died of typhoid and left her baby girl to grow up as best she might in
a land where women were few and far. This tiny pledge of her mother's love
Champ Lee had treasured as a gift from Heaven. He had tended her and
nursed her through the ailments of childhood with a devotion the most pure
of his reckless life. Given to heady gusts of passion, there had never
been a moment when his voice had been other than gentle and tender to
her.

Inevitably Melissy had become the product of her inheritance and her
environment. If she was the heiress of Beauchamp Lee's courage and
generosity, his quick indignation against wrong and injustice, so, too,
she was of his passionate lawlessness.

After supper Melissy disappeared. She wanted very much to be alone and
have a good cry. Wherefore she slipped out of the back door and ran up the
Lone Tree trail in the darkness. Jack thought he saw a white skirt fly a
traitorous signal, and at leisure he pursued.

But Melissy was not aware of that. She reached Lone Tree rock and slipped
down from boulder to boulder until she came to the pine which gave the
place its name. For hours she had been forced to repress her emotions, to
make necessary small talk, to arrange for breakfast and other household
details. Now she was alone, and the floods of her bitterness were
unloosed. She broke down and wept passionately, for she was facing her
first great disillusionment. She had lost a friend, one in whom she had
put great faith.

The first gust of the storm was past when Melissy heard a step on the
rocks above. She knew intuitively that Jack Flatray had come in search of
her, and he was the last man on earth she wanted to meet just now.

"'Lissie!" she heard him call softly; and again, "'Lissie!"

Noiselessly she got to her feet, waiting to see what he would do. She knew
he must be standing on the edge of the great rock, so directly above her
that if he had kicked a pebble it would have landed beside her. Presently
he began to clamber down.

She tiptoed along the ledge and slipped into the trough at the farther end
that led to the top. It was a climb she had taken several times, but never
in the dark. The ascent was almost perpendicular, and it had to be made by
clinging to projecting rocks and vegetation. Moreover, if she were to
escape undetected it had to be done in silence.

She was a daughter of the hills, as surefooted as a mountain goat. Handily
she went up, making the most of the footholds that offered. In spite of
the best she could do the rustling of bushes betrayed her.

Jack came to the foot of the trough and looked up.

"So you're there, are you?" he asked.

Her foot loosened a stone and sent it rolling down.

"If I were you I wouldn't try that at night, 'Liss," he advised.

She made sure of the steadiness of her voice before she answered. "You
don't need to try it."

"I said if I were you, girl."

"But you are not. Don't let me detain you here, Mr. Flatray," she told him
in a manner of icy precision.

The deputy began the climb too. "What's the use of being so hostile,
little girl?" he drawled. "Me, I came as soon as I could, burning the
wind, too."

She set her teeth, determined to reach the top in time to get away before
he could join her. In her eagerness she took a chance that proved her
undoing. A rock gave beneath her foot and clattered down. Clinging by one
hand and foot, she felt her body swing around. From her throat a little
cry leaped. She knew herself slipping.

"Jack!"

In time, and just in time, he reached her, braced himself, and gave her
his knee for a foot rest.

"All right?" he asked, and "All right!" she answered promptly.

"We'll go back," he told her.

She made no protest. Indeed, she displayed a caution in lowering herself
that surprised him. Every foothold she tested carefully with her weight.
Once she asked him to place her shoe in the crevice for her. He had never
seen her take so much time in making sure or be so fussy about her
personal safety.

Safely on the ledge again, she attempted a second time to dismiss him.
"Thank you, Mr. Flatray. I won't take any more of your time."

He looked at her steadily before he spoke. "You're mighty high-heeled,
'Lissie. You know my name ain't Mr. Flatray to you. What's it all about?
I've told you twice I couldn't get here any sooner."

She flamed out at him in an upblaze of feminine ferocity. "And I tell
you, that I don't care if you had never come. I don't want to see you or
have anything to do with you."

"Why not?" He asked it quietly, though he began to know that her charge
against him was a serious one.

"Because I know what you are now, because you have made us believe in you
while all the time you were living a lie."

"Meaning what?"

"I was gathering poppies on the other side of Antelope Pass this
afternoon."

"What has that got to do with me being a liar and a scoundrel," he wanted
to know.

"Oh, you pretend," she scoffed. "But you know as well as I do."

"I'm afraid I don't. Let's have the indictment."

"If everybody in Papago County had told me I wouldn't have believed it,"
she cried. "I had to see it with my own eyes before I could have been
convinced."

"Yes, well what is it you saw with your eyes?"

"You needn't keep it up. I tell you I saw it all from the time you fired
the shot."

He laughed easily, but without mirth. "Kept tab on me, did you?"

She wheeled from him, gave a catch of her breath, and caught at the rock
wall to save herself from falling.

He spoke sharply. "You hurt yourself in the trough."

"I sprained my ankle a little, but it doesn't matter."

He understood now why she had made so slow a descent and he suspected that
the wrench was more than she admitted. The moon had come out from under a
cloud and showed him a pale, tear-stained face, with a row of even, little
teeth set firm against the lower lip. She was in pain and her pride was
keeping it from him.

"Let me look at your ankle."

"No."

"I say yes. You've hurt it seriously."

"That is my business, I think," she told him with cold finality.

"I'm going to make it mine. Think I don't know you, proud as Lucifer when
you get set. You'll lame yourself for life if you're not careful."

"I don't care to discuss it."

"Fiddlesticks! If you've got anything against me we'll hear what it is
afterward. Right now we'll give first aid to the injured. Sit down here."

She had not meant to give way, but she did. Perhaps it was because of the
faintness that stole over her, or because the pain was sharper than she
could well endure. She found herself seated on the rock shelf, letting him
cut the lace out of her shoe and slip it off. Ever so gently he worked,
but he could tell by the catches of her breath that it was not pleasant to
endure. From his neck he untied the silk kerchief and wrapped it tightly
around the ankle.

"That will have to do till I get you home."

"I'll not trouble you, sir. If you'll stop and tell my father that is all
I'll ask."

"Different here," he retorted cheerfully. "Just so as to avoid any
argument, I'll announce right now that Jack Flatray is going to see you
home. It's his say-so."

She rose. None knew better than she that he was a dominating man when he
chose to be. She herself carried in her slim body a spirit capable of
passion and of obstinacy, but to-night she had not the will to force the
fighting.

Setting her teeth, she took a step or two forward, her hand against the
rock wall to help bear the weight. With narrowed eyes, he watched her
closely, noting the catches of pain that shot through her breathing. Half
way up the boulder bed he interposed brusquely.

"This is plumb foolishness, girl. You've got no business putting your
weight on that foot, and you're not going to do it."

He slipped his arm around her waist in such a way as to support her all he
could. With a quick turn of the body she tried to escape.

"No use. I'm going through with this, 'Lissie. Someone has been lying to
you about me, and just now you hate the ground I walk on. Good enough.
That's got nothing to do with this. You're a woman that needs help, and
any old time J. F. meets up with such a one he's on the job. You don't owe
me 'Thank you,' but you've got to stand for me till you reach the house."

"You're taking advantage of me because I can't help myself. Why don't you
go and bring father," she flung out.

"I'm younger than your father and abler to help. That's why?"

They reached the top of the bluff and he made her sit down to rest. A pale
moon suffused the country, and in that stage set to lowered lights her
pallor was accented. From the colorless face shadowy, troubled eyes spoke
the misery through which she was passing. The man divined that her pain
was more than physical, and the knowledge went to him poignantly by the
heart route.

"What is it, 'Lissie? What have I done?" he asked gently.

"You know. I don't want to talk about it."

"But I don't know."

"What's the use of keeping it up? I caught you this afternoon."

"Caught me doing what?"

"Caught you rustling, caught you branding a calf just after you had shot
the cow."

For an instant her charge struck him dumb. He stared at her as if he
thought she had gone suddenly mad.

"What's that? Say it again," he got out at last.

"And the cow had the Bar Double G brand, belonged to my father, your best
friend," she added passionately.

He spoke very gently, but there was an edge to his voice that was new to
her. "Suppose you tell me all about it."

She threw out a hand in a gesture of despair. "What's the use? Nothing
could have made me believe it but my own eyes. You needn't keep up a
pretense. I saw you."

"Yes, so you said before. Now begin at the start and tell your story."

She had the odd feeling of being put on the defensive and it angered her.
How dared he look at her with those cool, gray eyes that still appeared to
bore a hole through treachery? Why did her heart convict her of having
deserted a friend, when she knew that the desertion was his?

"While I was gathering poppies I heard a shot. It was so close I walked to
the edge of the draw and looked over. There I saw you."

"What was I doing?"

"You were hogtying a calf."

"And then?"

"I didn't understand at first. I thought to slip down and surprise you for
fun. But as I got lower I saw the dead cow. Just then you began to brand
the calf and I cried out to you."

"What did I do?"

"You know what you did," she answered wearily. "You broke for the brush
where your horse was and galloped away."

"Got a right good look at me, did you?"

"Not at your face. But I knew. You were wearing this blue silk
handkerchief." Her finger indicated the one bound around her ankle.

"So on that evidence you decide I'm a rustler, and you've only known me
thirteen years. You're a good friend, 'Lissie."

Her eyes blazed on him like live coals. "Have you forgotten the calf you
left with your brand on it?"

She had startled him at last. "With my brand on it?" he repeated, his
voice dangerously low and soft.

"You know as well as I do. You had got the F just about finished when I
called. You dropped the running iron and ran."

"Dropped it and ran, did I? And what did you do?"

"I reheated the iron and blurred the brand so that nobody could tell what
it had been."

He laughed harshly without mirth. "I see. I'm a waddy and a thief, but
you're going to protect me for old times' sake. That's the play, is it? I
ought to be much obliged to you and promise to reform, I reckon."

His bitterness stung. She felt a tightening of the throat. "All I ask is
that you go away and never come back to me," she cried with a sob.

"Don't worry about that. I ain't likely to come back to a girl that thinks
I'm the lowest thing that walks. You're not through with me a bit more
than I am with you," he answered harshly.

Her little hand beat upon the rock in her distress. "I never would have
believed it. Nobody could have made me believe it. I--I--why, I trusted
you like my own father," she lamented. "To think that you would take that
way to stock your ranch--and with the cattle of my father, too."

His face was hard as chiseled granite. "Distrust all your friends. That's
the best way."

"You haven't even denied it--not that it would do any good," she said
miserably.

There was a sound of hard, grim laughter in his throat. "No, and I ain't
going to deny it. Are you ready to go yet?"

His repulse of her little tentative advance was like a blow on the face to
her.

She made a movement to rise. While she was still on her knees he stooped,
put his arms around her, and took her into them. Before she could utter
her protest he had started down the trail toward the house.

"How dare you? Let me go," she ordered.

"You're not able to walk, and you'll go the way I say," he told her
shortly in a flinty voice.

Her anger was none the less because she realized her helplessness to get
what she wanted. Her teeth set fast to keep back useless words. Into his
stony eyes her angry ones burned. The quick, irregular rise and fall of
her bosom against his heart told him how she was struggling with her
passion.

Once he spoke. "Tell me where it was you saw this rustler--the exact place
near as you can locate it."

She answered only by a look.

The deputy strode into the living room of the ranch with her in his arms.
Lee was reading a newspaper Jack had brought with him from Mesa. At sight
of them he started up hurriedly.

"Goddlemighty, what's the matter, Jack?"

"Only a ricked ankle, Champ. Slipped on a stone," Flatray explained as he
put Melissy down on the lounge.

In two minutes the whole house was upset. Hop Ling was heating water to
bathe the sprain. A rider from the bunkhouse was saddling to go for the
doctor. Another was off in the opposite direction to buy some liniment at
Mammoth.

In the confusion Flatray ran up his horse from the pasture, slapped on the
saddle, and melted into the night.

An hour later Melissy asked her father what had become of him.

"Doggone that boy, I don't know where he went. Reckon he thought he'd be
in the way. Mighty funny he didn't give us a chanct to tell him to stay."

"Probably he had business in Mesa," Melissy answered, turning her face to
the wall.

"Business nothing," retorted the exasperated rancher. "He figured we
couldn't eat and sleep him without extra trouble. Ain't that a fine
reputation for him to be giving the Bar Double G? I'll curl his hair for
him onct I meet up with him again."

"If you would put out the light, I think I could sleep, dad," she told him
in the least of voices.

"Sure, honey. Has the throbbing gone out of the ankle?" he asked
anxiously.

"Not entirely, but it's a good deal better. Good-night, dad."

"If Doc comes I'll bring him in," Lee said after he had kissed her.

"Do, please."

But after she was left alone Melissy did not prepare herself for sleep.
Her wide open eyes stared into the darkness, while her mind stormily
reviewed the day. The man who for years had been her best friend was a
scoundrel. She had proved him unworthy of her trust, and on top of that he
had insulted her. Hot tears stung her eyes--tears of shame, of wounded
self-love, of mortification, and of something more worthy than any of
these.

She grieved passionately for that which had gone out of her life, for the
comradeship that had been so precious to her. If this man were a waddy,
who of all her friends could she trust? She could have forgiven him had he
done wrong in the heat of anger. But this premeditated evil was beyond
forgiveness. To make it worse, he had come direct from the doing of it to
meet her, with a brazen smile on his lips and a lie in his heart. She
would never speak to him again--never so long as she lived.





Next: The Man With The Chihuahua Hat

Previous: Brand Blotting



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